The View from Guelph: Farmers Seek Information in all the Right Places

Modern farming is one of the most complex enterprises anywhere. Today’s farmers must be agronomists, accountants, environmentalists, scientists, bankers, mechanics and much more. So where do they turn to for advice on running their capital-intensive, weather-dependent, incredibly complex operations?

Just like they do with farming, farmers blend the old and the new when it comes to media

Two recent studies paint a clear picture. Unlike consumers – who are more and more eschewing traditional media outlets such as national newspapers, network television, and radio in favour of new media channels – farmers are consuming traditional media avidly while adopting digital and social media at rates similar to consumers. In other words, farmers are layering social and digital on top of traditional media for a greater media intake than ever before. Indeed, it was never possible to consume this much media until recently.

The 2016 Agricultural Communications Review by IPSOS Marketing, surveyed 681 commercial farm operators, defined as those reporting more than $250,000 in gross farm sales. Overall, farm-focused print media and websites continue to be the leading sources of information for farmers – a trend uncovered in the previous IPSOS study, conducted in 2012. Here are some of the key results from the 2016 survey:

  • More news is better – 98% of farmers received one or more print publications on their farms in 2016, the same number as the 2012 study
  • Smartphones are everywhere – Smartphone ownership rose from 59% in 2012 to over 80% in 2016 (it’s likely close to 90% now)
  • Make it multiplatform – 30% of producers access publications through both print AND online, the highest of all combinations. With just 35% indicating they receive print-only versions, the importance of multiplatform digital messaging is paramount
  • Local radio lives – There is good news for radio stations too; farmers listen to almost 5 hours per day of radio between June and September. The majority (81%) is provided by local radio stations, followed by satellite radio at 13% and online radio at 6%
  • Print leads the way for new – To find out about new farm products, farm services, farm programs, and/or sales and deals on farm inputs, 75% put print media first, followed by their local retailer (54%), other farmers and families (47%), flyers and brochures (47%) and the internet at 45%. Podcasts were the lowest-rated media outlet for info on new products and services at 2% percent – but this number has likely increased as the quality and quantity of podcasts has improved since 2016.

Print media is still the go-to for big-ticket purchase research

A more recent survey, the 2018 Media Channel Study, put out by the US-based Agri Media Committee, confirms these trends, in both the US and Canada, which show remarkably consistent results.

The Media Channel Study brings out the ‘when’ of farmer media habits. Farmers use traditional media such as magazines and newspapers earlier in the decision-making process, specifically when they start thinking about making a purchase and begin researching options. Ag websites feature more prominently during the research and ‘narrowing’ stages, while dealers and retailers are the primary information sources at the ‘final decision’ stage.

For social media platforms in Canada, this study found YouTube to be the preferred channel at 59%, then Facebook at 39%, and Twitter at 27%. Instagram came in at 10%, but anecdotal evidence suggests this is likely increasing.

The bottom line for agri-marketers seems intuitive: abandon traditional media at your peril. A strategic and integrated marketing approach, featuring both traditional and emerging media channels, continues to be the best strategy to cover all your bases. Print is definitely not dead when it comes to getting your message out in agriculture!

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